Arrivals, from kyoto 88.
(photo credit: )
"Tel Aviv feels like the countryside," says Tsuyoshi Oi quietly as he folds his hands together and straightens his back against the chair.
"It is a small city with a small number of people compared to Japan," he adds in explanation, perhaps prompted by my astonishment to hear the bustling, noisy beach town referred to as "countryside." With fewer than 7 million inhabitants, Israel feels spacious to him, especially when he considers that the number of people living in Tokyo alone is twice that of the entire Israeli population.
Born in Kyoto in the middle of winter in 1969, Tsuyoshi grew up in a traditional Japanese home. He was always interested in cars and decided to study mechanics in a vocational school after he finished high school. He later got a job as a driving instructor, and a friend introduced him to the Israeli woman who would become his wife. The couple married in Japan and had a son before moving back to Kfar Saba. Last year they decided to divorce, but Tsuyoshi says he will stay in Israel because he likes the lifestyle and the people here and he wants to stay near his son.
"The first time I came to Israel it was for a one-week visit during the intifada," he says. Before he met his wife, he had no idea where Israel was on a map, let alone what kind of place it would be. "My ex-wife wanted to show me the country, so we traveled all around, from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. The night after we left Jerusalem, a terrorist attack happened right where we were staying, and the day after that, just after we had finished our shopping at Dizengoff Center, another attack was carried out."
Asked if he was frightened to move here after so many near misses in just one week, he answers that he was never really afraid because he did not have any reason to be.
"They all missed me," he says, smiling.
Tsuyoshi's mother works in a hospital accounting department and his father is vice president of a wholesale foods company in Kyoto. His sister, who moved from Kyoto to Tokyo, was working in a bookstore but is not currently employed. None of his family members have ever visited Israel, but he plans to go home for a visit in the near future.
A little over a year after the birth of his son in 1997, the family returned to Israel together to settle permanently. It didn't take Tsuyoshi long to realize that if he wanted to communicate effectively here in Israel, he would have to express himself differently.
"If I try to communicate as the Japanese would, people do not understand me, and business is tough here. I had to learn how to make myself understood."
He says part of the process meant learning the body language, and he has adapted so well to his new environment that he sometimes embarrasses himself today by waving "Israeli-style" when meeting new people in the Japanese Embassy, rather than bowing like a polite Japanese man.
When he first arrived, he looked for a job in his profession as a driving instructor, but he soon realized that it would be impossible to find work in that field.
"I worked in the diamond market for a while, and I worked for a tofu factory," he says. Eventually, he learned how to be a sushi chef and set up a food stall in the mall.
"My stall was next to a Druse man so I used to make beautiful Druse pitot in his place when he needed a break," recounts Tsuyoshi with a smile. "But when it came to me taking a break and him making sushi, the results were not quite as good."
A few years later, he began working with Tiv-Tam. Today, Tsuyoshi owns two sushi bars in the larger Tiv-Tam stores in Ashdod and Netanya. He caters private parties in the evenings and on weekends, and during the week he works at the Japanese embassy.
After his divorce, Tsuyoshi moved into an apartment in Kfar Saba. He wanted to stay in the city to be near his son's school and says he enjoys the environment there.
One of the things Tsuyoshi loves most about Israel is its cultural diversity and freedom of expression.
"When I had a food stand, I met many famous Israelis and people from everywhere. I have friends who are Druse, Yemenite, European, Russian and Israeli, and each one has their own mentality and their own way of expressing themselves. I like the people and the interactions here."
"I miss the food, and I miss the rain," says Tsuyoshi of his home town of Kyoto. But he sees himself as more Israeli now than Japanese. "I even find it difficult to be in Japanese society because of the rigid social norms."
And although he does encounter some racism - people who think he's a foreign worker or a farmer - he says looking different can sometimes work to his advantage.
"People assume I don't speak Hebrew, so I can listen to conversations without them knowing," he smiles with an impish glint in his eyes.
Like most Japanese people, Tsuyoshi grew up with strong Buddhist influences, but he says that unlike Judaism, it is not a practiced religion.
"Sometimes we light a candle or go to the temple for fun," he says, "but I do not celebrate any holidays or have specific rituals."
Since he arrived in Israel, he has learned a lot about Judaism and has a deep respect for it, he says.
"I am not Jewish, but every year for nine years I have fasted on Yom Kippur. I take no food or water on that day. Not even a cigarette."
"Ulpan was difficult for me because I studied in Ashkelon, and everyone but me was Russian, even the teacher," says Tsuyoshi. He managed to master the language and now speaks, reads and writes fluently in Hebrew.
A native Japanese speaker, Tsuyoshi also speaks perfect English. With his son, he speaks largely in Hebrew, even though his son can also understand enough Japanese to translate animated films for his friends, which makes him the coolest kid in school.
"I do not have specific plans for the future," says Tsuyoshi. "Nearly everything in my life happened without my planning for it, and I want to be flexible and open to new opportunities."
Perhaps his most recent challenge was making sure his son had the ideal costume for Purim.
"He wanted to be Willy Wonka," says Tsuyoshi, "and helping him to perfect the costume was great fun."
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